Voter turnout in contested races is the real statistic


It's always reported how low US voter turnout is in midterm elections. 2006, at about 40%, seems pretty poor, though it was higher than 2002.

However the statistic I would like to see is "Voter turnout in districts where there is an important, hotly contested race." This is the number we might want to monitor from year to year.

Virginia, it turns out, which had the Webb-Allen "Macaca" race, had the highest voter turnout in its history. You wouldn't think that after hearing about the low turnout of a typical mid-term. Of course it will also go down as the first time a major U.S. politician was taken down due to blogs, the web and YouTube. Since it was so close, almost any factor can be given credit for Allen's loss.

It is not surprising that when there is no contested race, that turnout is low. The U.S. for various bizarre reasons, has most incumbents always safe in their seats. This switch of 30 or so seats in the house and 6 in the senate is considered a major upheaval, nigh a revolution, by Americans. With seats so safe, there is no suprise there is little incentive in voting. U.S. ballots are very complex compared to many countries, and there are often long voting lines, and you don't get official time off to vote.

Contrast that to Canada, where a public upset with the Conservative party's introduction of the visible Goods and Services Tax (a 7% VAT) took the party from having a majority of parliament to having TWO seats. 2, as in 1 plus 1. There's no such safety zone for incumbents, no cry for term limits in much of the rest of the world. There, if the public gets upset it throws the bums out, or drops them back to a minority position due to the fact that there are more than 2 parties.

I hope one of the major statistical agencies starts tracking voter turnout modulated by how motivated the voters are in particular districts. Of course voter turnout is the final metric of how motivated they were, but there are other, earlier indicators in most cases.


> The U.S. for various bizarre reasons, has most incumbents always safe > in their seats.

In any other country, the "bizarre reasons" would be corruption,
abuse of power and an absurd political system. If, say,
Slobodan Milosovic had suggested a copy of the U.S. political
system should be set up in Yugoslavia, the world would have, rightly,
collectively said "whom are you trying to kid; get rid of this

In a masterstroke of doublespeak, the U.S. uses buzzwords like
"democracy" and has convinced many people that it actually
implements democracy within its borders, when in reality it
is one of the least democratic countries.

But, hey, what do you expect from a country where half the
population believes God created the world 6000 years ago?

A reasonable proxy for 'contested races' would be those with small margins, say where the winner gets less than 52%. Without an objective measure like that, such a statistic would be rather like 'unforced errors' in tennis, which turns out to be complete bullshit due to its subjectivity.

I was thinking one way to apply the test would be to base it on the final results. However, strictly speaking, what we're interested in is elections where the voters felt the election was important. This can actually also be measured by the amount of press coverage of an election (which can be objectively measured, it's just harder, especially in the past.)

However, I do also feel that the closeness of the final result is indeed a reasonable proxy for detecting contested races. Probably things can be learned by examining the undervote (ballots cast which did not include a choice on a particular race.) Contested races will have a low undervote and may actually increase the undervote on lesser races.

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